Forty Fort, Luzerne County -- Forty Fort Police Officer Brian Casella spent Thursday stopping vehicles during an aggressive driving crackdown. Had he spotted something suspicious, he could have searched those vehicles without a warrant. A recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling now allows officers to use probable cause without a warrant to search during a traffic stop. "I think it expedites the process so we don't have to wait so long to get a search warrant and then able to get access to the vehicle and help us in arresting individuals that have contraband inside their vehicle," said Ofc. Casella. Fellow Forty Fort Police Officer Bill Stone, who's been in law enforcement for nearly four decades, says previously requiring a search warrant would sometimes hamper investigations. "It's a process that we have to go through just to get a search warrant and it's time consuming and in some cases evidence could be lost."
Some drivers are concerned about the ruling and its impact on their rights. Jason Harding of Exeter said, "The police have a hard time conducting their business and keeping us safe but at the same time I respect an individual's right for privacy." Ron Lewis of West Wyoming took his concerns a step further. "We've lost enough of our rights. We are today what when we were younger used to think Russia was like."
While some may claim the judicial ruling infringes on individual freedoms, police hope probable cause searches without warrants will make for better law enforcement. "It's just another tool for us to hopefully make our jobs easier and as long as nobody abuses it, it should be a good thing to do," said Ofc. Stone.
The changes to the traffic stop search law put Pennsylvania in line with federal law and with several other states.
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